The first thing Tammy Jordan did was erase the damnable number from her cell phone. Not the second thing, not the third. That number was gone.
Where Jordan was headed, the number had no place. She just graduated from Dawson County’s drug court and vowed to look forward, not back. She would devote herself to the two daughters she had neglected and care for her father because she had abandoned her mother.
Jordan’s methamphetamine addiction had led her to months-long absences from her family. The boyfriends she found could be as bad as the dope, including one who beat her to the point of unconsciousness in front of her two young daughters.
She was living out of her car and foraging through trash cans at convenience stores for discarded lottery tickets because she’d heard some customers overlooked their winnings.
She won $10 here, $20 there, enough for gas money to keep the car warm at night. On a couple of occasions she hit it big on a $20 ticket, winning $500 a couple of times, $1,000 on one occasion. That’d be enough for a hotel room where she’d have a bed and a warm shower – and money for more dope.
But all that was before the number.
In 2007, Jordan moved from her mom’s house in Madison to Winder where she had found a steady supply of meth. She’d been there only a few months when she learned that her mother had been hospitalized with terminal brain and lung cancer. She only visited twice, and one of those times was to get the keys to her mother’s Dodge Neon.
After she got the call that her mother had died, Jordan got as high as she had ever been. On the day of the memorial service, she drove around Winder, circling the town square in her mother’s car, unsure what to do. She finally got a friend to ride with her to the service.
Jordan took hits off the meth pipe on the way.
When she arrived at the funeral home, she looked in the rear view mirror and cringed. She looked like what she was: a frazzled meth addict who cared more about dope than about her own mother. She never got out of the car.
Two months later, Jordan was arrested for the first time. Police found enough meth, Xanax and liquid steroids to charge her with possession with the intent to distribute. The scales they discovered would be Exhibit A.
Jordan posted bond about a month later. She was at a friend’s house washing her clothes when police came in and found a meth pipe. Jordan was arrested again, this time for drug possession.
Prosecutors allowed her to plead guilty to charges stemming from her first arrest, and she received probation.
Jordan would go for months at a time without seeing her two teenage daughters, Mesha and Litha. Mesha, two years older than her sister, had long since taken over the role of mother to Litha, waking her up in the morning to get ready for school, doing the laundry, washing the dishes, cooking. Whenever they saw their mom, they’d give her money to buy gas – and only gas, they insisted – so she’d drive back and see them again soon.
In May 2009, Jordan gave a guy a ride to Dawsonville, not knowing, she says, he was a drug dealer. She drove him to a Texaco station off Ga. 400 where they picked up a woman and drove around back. After he gave the woman the meth inside a pack of cigarettes, she gave him $300. Police then materialized and swarmed the car. The woman was working undercover and wearing a wire, and Jordan was arrested again – this time as a party to the crime of selling meth. With her record, she was looking at three to five years in prison.
This time, she was taken to the Dawson County jail. And she was on her way to learning about the number.
Jordan sat in jail for nine months. Mesha would have nothing to do with her. (“Tough love,” she says today.) Only Litha came to visit her. (“No matter what she did, no matter how much she hurt me, she was still my mom,” she says. “I also told her, ‘It’s not OK to do this to us.’”)
Inside the jail, Jordan heard about Dawson’s drug court and wanted to enter it, determined to become drug free. But there was a condition: she had to live within five miles of the Dawson County line. The only two people she knew who qualified – her father and her sister – were blocking her calls.
But they weren’t blocking calls from Jordan’s public defender, Rob McNeil. He got through and told them what drug court had to offer.
At the next visitation at the jail, Jordan was told she had someone to see her. She walked in and broke down when she saw her father and stepmother.
“I’ll do whatever it takes if you commit yourself,” her father, William Jordan, said.
She bonded out, entered drug court, moved in with her dad, got a job cleaning houses around Big Canoe and began regularly attending Narcotics Anonymous classes.
And so the number became an immutable fact of her life.
Every morning at 5 a.m. on every single day of the year, Jordan had to call the number, punch in her Social Security number and listen to find out whether she needed to show up that morning to give a urine sample.
"It was so aggravating," she says now. "But that number taught me stability and responsibility. If not for it, people could go out and get high whenever they wanted. With it, I knew, ‘Absolutely no.'"
The consequences of a failed drug test were there for all to see during the biweekly drug court meetings in which each participant stands in front of the judge to discuss the highlights and lowlights of his or her week. Instead of being allowed to return to their seat in the gallery, some who failed a drug test that week are handcuffed and taken to the jury box and then to jail.
Jordan, 42, never failed a test. She did, however, continue to beat herself up for abandoning her mother. Driving home from work, she’d find herself in tears, filled with shame.
As she continued to progress through drug court, Jordan was allowed to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous seminar with her sponsor in Jekyll Island. Early one morning she walked out onto the pier, looked across the ocean and asked her mom to forgive her.
Jordan said she got the reply she wanted. “I know she’s proud of what I’ve been through,” Jordan said recently. “I’m the mother of her grandchildren again. She looks down and smiles on that. I just know it.”
Jordan now has a fiance she says treats her extremely well, works as an account manager and just bought a brand-new Toyota Corolla. “I wouldn’t trade my life for nothing now,” she said, seated between her two daughters.
Litha, 18, lives with her mother. ("I'm so proud of her," Litha says.) Mesha, 20 and recently married, regularly drops in for dinner. ("I've got my mom back and get to hang out with her," she says.) Jordan also looks in on her father, who suffers from a respiratory disease.
“I wouldn’t even know if my daddy was sick if I were still on drugs, because I wouldn’t be anywhere near him,” she said.
Last May, Jordan graduated from drug court during an emotional ceremony as her father and Mesha choked back tears and Litha recorded it all with a video camera. That night, Jordan would head up to a cabin in Helen -- a gift from a friend -- to do some trout fishing.
But just after Jordan walked out of the courthouse, she pulled out her cell phone. There was one thing she had to do that couldn't wait. Seconds later, the number was gone.
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